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The Lucky Country revisited

By Klaas Woldring - posted Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Howard Government’s performance reminds one of the Titanic disaster. The claims of “experienced hands”, “sound economic management” and Australians “never having had it so good” are indicative of an aura of exceptional well being. There is the $20 billion surplus. However, the reality is suggestive of troubled times on the horizon.

To begin with there is a record private sector foreign debt, growing steadily worse. The level of personal debt of Australians has never been higher either, and still growing as well. House ownership is unaffordable for most young people living in cities.

Many have to default on their mortgage payments and have their houses repossessed. Increasingly renters are in dire straights. Repeatedly we are told that unemployment is at a 30-year low, at 4.5 per cent, but we are not reminded that unemployment between 1950 and 1975 was between 1 per cent and 2 per cent. Although the drought is an external circumstance, handling it has left much to be desired. The prospects for country people are very poor as well.


A lack of effective action on environmental protection for the last 11 years has already cost Australia dearly. The Treasurer has acknowledged that Australia's economy is actually "delicately poised" and "precariously balanced", and claiming that only the Howard Government is competent to handle such a situation. It does not seem to occur to him that this very situation suggests poor economic management.

Why do we regularly have massive budget surpluses while infrastructure projects are left languishing or simply don’t happen? Regularly, the ALP-controlled states are blamed for this situation but why is it that the Howard Government hasn’t lifted itself above playing politics? Instead it has accumulated an electoral war chest which it can use to present itself as a generous provider. The cost of federation is about $30 billion a year but the Howard Government has done nothing to initiate structural changes.

Mr Howard is trying hard to promote his nuclear agenda for Australia in spite of the very high cost of that venture. Apart from all the negatives associated with his nuclear ambitions, just in terms of economic management it makes no sense.

The scandalous growth in income and asset inequalities makes a complete mockery of egalitarianism. The privatisation of numerous public enterprises have often been of dubious economic value.

Public management has been politicised and corporatised. Its effectiveness and professionalism has deteriorated. The PPP (public private partnership) disasters are there for all to see.

In our so-called thriving economy the enduring skills shortages are further evidence of poor economic management.


The growing cost of the deteriorating health sector, especially hospital and dental service delivery, is a crazy situation.

The growing imbalance of public and private education is the opposite of sound economic management. A recent OECD Report, again, shows that public spending on tertiary education in Australia is one of the lowest of the developed world.

The WorkChoices legislation makes a mockery of choice and has proven detrimental to our work lives, clearly a cost to the nation. WorkChoices has reinforced Australia’s adversarial workplace culture: that legislation has been a costly mistake altogether. The taxpayers’ money spent on advertising by the Government and, of necessity, by the retaliating unions, can only be described as unbelievably wasteful. Progressive strategies to create productive workplaces, common in many overseas countries, are not on the radar.

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About the Author

Dr Klaas Woldring is a former Associate Professor of Southern Cross University.

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